Following in the tradition established some years ago by Lakeview math teacher (and OSU alum) Noni Vandenberg, talented 8th grade Lakeview math students made their annual visit to OSU. This year the students learned about robotics at OSU from Matt Shuman who teaches engineering design and coaches the OSU robotics team. Matt talked with the students about the importance of math in all of engineering and especially in the design of robots. We met Cassie, a walking robot designed by OSU faculty and students, and saw the Mars rover robot designed and built by the OSU student robotics club that won an international competition.

The annual 8th grade advanced math field trip is especially important because these students are in their first of four years of math that will lead them all the way to calculus in their senior year, the pinnacle of high school math. **Only about 15% of America’s high school students take calculus in high school but over the past several years, about 25% of Lakeview high school graduates take calculus.** That’s an especially high percentage for a small school — it’s hard to offer calculus in a small school. First, you need a critical mass, enough students to offer the class every year. With average graduating classes of about 60, Lakeview needs at least 12 students (20%) prepared to take calculus in their senior year for it to be viable. And, they need a math teacher who is qualified to teach calculus and, even more importantly, knows how to relate the subject to kids. That’s not all; it won’t happen if you don’t have kids who want to take calculus. Lakeview has created a culture that supports calculus. Lots of kids have brothers, sisters, cousins, and even parents that took calculus, it’s just what you do.

After saying goodbye to Matt and the robots, we walked over to Furman Hall, home of the OSU College of Education, where we met Randy Bell, Associate Dean of the College and Cory Buxton, Chair of Science and Math Education. Some of you from Lakeview may recognize Randy as he taught science at Lakeview High School from 1987 – 1994 before returning to graduate school and then on to his university career. Randy asked the students to introduce themselves and tell us something they like about Lakeview. As they introduced themselves, Randy realized he had taught several of their parents and we heard a common theme in what they like about Lakeview — appreciation for a close community where seemingly everyone knows each other.

That closeness and sense of community may very well be an important part of the supportive culture for calculus in Lakeview. It seems that in Lakeview most, if not all, students that have the capacity for advanced math, stick with the math sequence all the way through till calculus. Among the community of students, there is support for all of them doing it together.

To get some sense of comparison, I checked with the Corvallis School District to see what percentage of their high school graduates take calculus. It’s about 16% (see note below), quite a bit lower than Lakeview. How can a district as small and remote as Lakeview have a higher percentage of kids in calculus than Corvallis, home of Oregon State University, Hewlett-Packard, and lots of other hi-tech companies?

It certainly isn’t because the kids aren’t as smart or the teachers aren’t as good. Corvallis has a much higher percentage of Advanced Placement calculus students, National Merit Scholars, perfect and near-perfect SAT scores, and so on. The higher percentage of calculus takers in Lakeview has more to do with the community support for as many students as possible to take as much math as possible. In Corvallis and many other communities, it’s likely that most of the students who take calculus are those who plan to enter a STEM field in college. Others who have the capacity for further math, stop at pre-calculus or Algebra II and take a year or more off from math.

Consider the example of one of last year’s Lakeview calculus students who was one of the 17 Lake County graduates to receive the Daly Scholarship. After graduation she went on to a community college cosmetology program. Will she use differential equations in hair styling? Probably not, but her engagement with math at the highest levels will matter. Math counts…

Notes:

- The percentage of Corvallis students taking calculus is for the 2019 school year, the percentages vary from year to year.